Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

This Week on the Top 11 GOTG Posts for 2017


This week on the top 11 GOTG posts for 2017:


11. From Boys to Better Men

I was called a lezbian man-hater for marching...

10. Men of a Consequential Age

When we first arrived, I didn't think much about it...

9. The Hard C

She asked the person to remove the C-word from the Facebook post...

8. Stay Classy, America

Something was wrong...

7. Real Friends Transcendent

It was like every teen friendship movie we've ever seen, except played out in grade school...

6. Because There's Always a Next Time

After the first game, one of the parents said, "Headline reads: The Tigers get pounced!"

5. Just Another Saturday

I just needed to pee when the Mama called to me from downstairs...

4. Of All the Things

The song rocked sweetly in my head as it played overhead while we walked back to our hotel after some shopping...

3. One of the 99

I thought we were going to talk about something else...

2. Be Part of the Solution

One minute I was happily serving drinks, and the next minute I blacked out. And I don’t think the Mickey was meant for me...

1. To Have All the Time I Need

It was hard enough just to get through the workday, being depressed on my birthday...


Thank you for reading. Get off the ground and make a stand happen in 2018. Happy Parenting and Happy New Year!

Human Like Us

As we drove by, I watched him cut his hair with an electric razor as he stood on the sidewalk. I’d seen him park his older nondescript van there before, in front of our neighbor’s house three houses down. But I’d never seen him outside shaving his head with an electric razor plugged into the neighbor’s porch outlet.

That’s odd, I thought, watching him in the rearview mirror.

“Did you see that guy?” I asked my wife.

“What guy?”

She obviously hadn’t seen him, so I waited until we parked in our driveway and got out.

“That guy,” I said, pointing down the street along the sidewalk.

She stopped and nodded. “Yes, what’s he doing?”

“He’s cutting his hair. Maybe shaving his head actually. On the sidewalk. And he’s plugged into our neighbor’s house.”

“Maybe he’s a friend of theirs,” she said.

“Maybe, but I’m not sure they’re home.”

It was Christmas day and we’d just returned from an outing with our girls. Immediately I felt conflicted – on the one hand I wanted to walk down and ask him who he was and what he was doing there, and on the other hand I wanted to check with our neighbors first if they knew him. There had already been other neighbors finding phone chargers plugged into their front porch outlets, which unfortunately wasn’t unusual with the homeless traffic that frequented our way. We live on the edge of town and just beyond our neighborhood are homeless encampments in the hills. In fact, there have been more brazen encampments on either side of Highway 1 near where we live.

I felt conflicted because I thought it pretty bold for a homeless man to park his van in front of a neighbor’s house and start living in their front yard and driveway while they were away. Our new police chief recently mandated that, unless there is a complaint by someone in control of that property or some other crime or nuisance behavior is taking place, they wouldn't enforce the city’s overnight sleeping/camping ban. He also encouraged city and county leaders to work together to create better long-term solutions to homelessness.

There are pockets near us around the outskirts of the city limits where homeless camping via cars and motorhomes is constant. Our county’s overall homeless population exceeds 2,000, which made it the eighth largest in the country, compared to 306 other small regions, according to our local paper and a U.S. Housing and Urban Development report.

And the population has increased, "Overall, homelesssness increased in Santa Cruz County by 15 percent in 2017, compared to a similar one-day count conducted in January 2015. With the exception of 2015’s significant 44.5 percent drop, the region’s homeless population has generally remained steady through the years, according to homeless census data."

“Should I call the police?” I asked my wife.

“Not yet. Why don’t you try to contact the neighbors and see if they know him first.”

I emailed them and then called them, leaving a voice mail. I still wasn’t sure they were gone, but it looked more like it. My conflict grew, primarily because I felt like if it were us being the ones gone, and someone was doing that in front of our house, we’d want them to do something. Contact us. Call the police. Ask the person who they were and what they were doing.

“I have to go down there,” I said. "What if he's a pedophile? I don't want him down there."

My wife stopped what she was doing and channeled her Kidpower. “We don't know that. We don’t know who he is and yes, it could be a safety issue, so I don't want you going down there. Maybe he’s mentally ill. Either way our rule is to be aware, move away and get help if needed.”

“But what if it was us? I should at least call the police.”

“I understand, but they may not do anything. They aren’t enforcing the camping ban.”

“But I have to do something.”

“It’s Christmas, Sweetie. Let it be. If he’s still there later doing questionable stuff, then we call. But do not go down there.”

“Fine,” I said. Although I still didn’t agree about not walking down to talk with the guy, about not doing anything. I thought of my father, a policeman and detective for 32 years, and knew he would've walked down the street and asked the guy what he was up to. Not to aggressively confront, just to be neighborly. But I'm not a policeman, and I'm not my father. I realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So best to monitor and wait and call the police if I need be.

On the eve of our annual holiday Disneyland trip, I remembered the homeless women in Anaheim from last year. She was a large women, parked quietly at a bus stop, and she smelled really bad. The girls asked why she was sitting there like that. We told them the poor woman didn't have anywhere else to go. She didn't talk with anyone or ask for any money, just sat with her eyes closed, seemingly asleep. Everyone walked by her as if she didn't exist. We struggled with what to do, if anything, and ended up not doing anything. Two days later she was gone.

I struggled with what to do again this time, although the circumstances were much different. Of course homelessness is much more complex than any experience we've ever had personally. According to an analysis earlier this year in Santa Cruz, over half the homeless have been homeless for a year or more and also suffer from one or more disabling conditions like substance abuse, psychiatric conditions, physical disabilities and more. Sadly one in three have been in jail within the past year as well. Then there's the harsh reality for too many homeless is that there is a potential violence and sexual abuse that comes from living on the street. I went on a ride along with an officer recently and we picked up a transient felon with weapons who had violated his parole.

Safety first for our families and communities, but we talk about the homeless as if they're another species, one whose poor choices, addictions, mental illnesses and/or other tragic circumstances have evolved them into societal blights. The reality is they're human like us, and at any given time we can become them because of the same genetic disposition and/or unfortunate circumstance.

The day after Christmas on our way to Disneyland this year, I received an email reply from our neighbors about the van-driving hair trimmer:

Hi Kevin,
Thanks so much for watching out for us, much appreciated!
In this case all is well. He’s our long-time friend, and in this case house sitting for us.
He does cut his own hair and didn't want to get little bits of hair all over inside.
Hope you all have enjoyed your Christmas, we wish you all the best in the new year.

Well, I'll be damned, although cutting hair on the sidewalk is still odd. We wish you all the best as well. 

Happy New Year. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Christmas Wish of Awareness

"To know love, men must be able to let go the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change."

--bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love


It was in that moment that every inappropriate word and action against women I had ever witnessed in my lifetime slithered into my consciousness and catcalled my own male guilt.

Fifteen minutes earlier the rental car driver came to the body shop to pick me up and take me to their office to get our rental car. We were having our car fixed and had to leave it at the body shop for a few days. My driver was an older man, maybe late fifties, and he had the local classic rock radio channel on.

"Right on," I said. "I love the Hippo." That was the colloquial name for the rock station KHIP.

"Me too," he said. "Gotta have my rock and roll."

"Yes, indeed," I said.

As we backed out of our parking spot, a woman pulled in and parked the truck she drove. We waited for her to get out and cross in front of us to enter the body shop office.

"She's cute," my driver said.

"Yes," I said, not really thinking about it. I just wanted to get my rental car and get back to work.

He shook his head and laughed. "You know, you can't even say a girl is cute anymore, or she'll report you. You could've done it fifteen years ago and accidentally touch her leg and she could sue you now. Crazy."

I heard every word he said with a heightened attentiveness, but didn't say anything.

He went on. "You have to be careful -- you can't even look at a woman anymore without being accused of something. It's crazy."

He laughed, but I didn't think it was funny.

"You know, many of these women coming out today were sexually harassed and assaulted," I said.

That unsettled him. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

I went on. "This is pretty serious, the way too many women are still treated today. I have two daughters and I can't imagine them having to deal with this kind of crap when they're older, but unfortunately they most likely will and we'll want them to speak up and not take it."

"Yeah, you're right. I know," he said. He nodded as he drove, but I could tell he was still uncomfortable.

We both got quiet then. I felt better that I had spoken up, but it certainly wasn't anything heroic. I could only think of every time in my life when I heard another man say something derogatory about another women because they refused his advances, that women are too sensitive and misunderstand too easily, that in the case of harassment and assault it was the woman's fault and that we live in a too politically correct world where men are blamed for it all when the wind blows the wrong way. That for every woman who cries rape there's another who falsely accuses.

But I knew that was all bullshit, even when there are those who do falsely accuse. The fact is that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives, and 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (according to statistics from NO MORE, an nonprofit organization that unites and strengthens a diverse, global community to help end domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse).

My driver's cell phone rang. "Hello. Yes, yes, we just left there. She needs a ride? Okay, we'll circle back." He hung up and added to me, "We've got another person needing to get a rental car, so if it's okay we'll head back there and get her."

"Sure," I said.

"It's probably that woman we saw park the truck," he said.

"Yep."

And sure enough it was. She got in the back seat, and after some friendly banter between the three of us, the car got quiet except for the radio playing. Tom Petty pleaded with us to break down.

"Break down, go ahead and give it to me
Break down, honey take me through the night
Break down now I standin' here can't you see
Break down, it's all right
It's all right
It's all right..."

I loved that old rock song, but in this moment it wasn't "all right" and the context felt awkward, as if I was the one who had done something inappropriate and felt it fill the car like warm, stinky air. Our other passenger had no idea of what had been discussed just moments earlier between the driver and myself. I wanted to blurt out how I'm all about treating each other better, about treating women with respect as equals, about how I made my own mistakes over the years and how life lessons are only as good as what you do with the learning, about how I grew up with abusive patriarchy and domestic violence and sexual assault and that's why I'm on the city Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and involved in Kidpower and why I along with many others want to change the culture of victim and perpetrator and protective self-defense to my Christmas wish of awareness and prevention and a willingness to change, of ending the perpetual battle between unforgiving modern feminism and the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks).

All in one breath. And then I thought better of it, because they both would've thought me crazy, and I'm sure they were already both good people deep down, even with the driver's commentary.

Instead, we got to the rental car place and then went on our separate ways. I was glad I had spoken up, though, and told my wife the same later that day.

"Good for you, Sweetie. Did you tell him you're on the city commission?" she asked.

"No, I didn't. But I thought about it."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Our Gig Economy Kids

We're in in the business of no.

"No, you can't fill the sink and wash your horse."

"No, you can't slide down the stairs on your butt."

"No, you can't pretend the guinea pigs are your puppets."

"Oh, and please remember to shut the freezer all the way after you've opened it."

"We do shut it!"

"No, you don't."

Sigh.

So many no's nearly everything single day, that if they weren't kids with still-developing frontal lobes and personal awareness and impulse control, they'd probably be posting bad reviews on the parenting-as-business equivalents to Glassdoorkununu and Indeed. If you're not familiar with these online platforms, they're employer job sites and review sites where job candidates and employees can post anonymous reviews about their job search and employment experiences with any particular company. Candidate experience is real for both kids and adults and can be positive and negative.

So, like talent acquisition professionals everyday, we as parents are in the business of no. Except that we're not saying no to 99 out of 100 different people who are applying for our jobs, we're saying no 99 out of 100 times to our children who are doing questionable things and who aren't doing the jobs we want them to do.

Over and over and over again.

It comes with the parenting territory. They are the raw talent and we're doing everything we can to teach them well and skill them up. To the point that one day they'll take what we've taught them -- combined with what they've gleaned from peers, teachers and even other bosses once they start working for reals -- they'll take all that and apply it to their future world of work. Maybe even apply their maturing #BhivePower as we like to call it, their aspiring gumption, and become entrepreneurial to make their own way for themselves as well as many others who may work for them someday.

"No, you can't dump any more of your tiny Shopkin toys onto the floor, but you can start picking the ones that are out and everything else on the floor. Please. Now. Thank you."

"No!"

"Yes, right now."

"It's so unfair."

"Pick up your toys."

Sigh.

"And please remember to close the freezer after you've opened it."

"We do close it!"

"You do not -- not all the way."

"We do too!"

Sigh.

It comes with the kid territory. To want to play, play, play and then not put anything away (or shut freezer doors all the way). But once they're old enough to start listening and taking care of business, no matter how much they fight it, then it's a win. And then you have independent contractors under your roof that aren't subject to federal, state or local employment laws. Contractors with benefits who benefit us.

No, we don't have them making t-shirts for sale out the of garage, so no need to report us. But we do want to instill a sense of responsibility that comes with some tangible rewards, like the money to buy the tiny toys they love to dump out onto the floor and play with.

At first it was the one-off's, the "please help me clean off the counter and you can earn a dollar to buy that thing you want." We've done that for the past couple of years and then the Mama (what I affectionately call my wife) more recently developed a chore chart and we've graduated the girls to an allowance. It's a weekly paycheck of sorts that they can make up to $X -- but only if they complete their chores. Otherwise, their allowance will be commensurate with what they actually do, something that's definitely non-negotiable in our little world of work.

Is it the most effective and efficient application of chore doing getting done? Of course not. Have you seen our daughters clean the kitchen counters off with a cleaning wipe? Tiny concentric circles that swipe quickly across the counters, only moving bacteria from one concentric circle to another.

Life hacks gotta start somewhere, though. And at some point we definitely need to depend on our children to help get us keep the house in order and get the stuff done that needs doing, week after week, day after day. It should serve them well into young adulthood, and at least for now it's working. Mostly with our oldest, Beatrice, although Bryce will come along (if she wants the money).

It comes with the parenting territory. They are our gig economy kids and we're doing everything we can to teach them well and skill them up with enough (mostly) positive life experiences that will offset their eventual personal upsets and downsizes.

Later, after they've gone to bed, I say:

"The girls still aren't shutting the freezer all the way, and every time the temperature just climbs and climbs, and I'm the one who has to shut it tight."

Pause. The Mama shrugs.

"Honey, relax about the freezer door. It's not the end of the world. I try to make sure it's shut."

Pause. I shake my head.

"No, I'm the one who shuts it all the time."

Pause. The Mama shrugs.

"Hey, at least they wipe their own butts now."

Pause. I nod.

"Sure, but they don't flush all the time."

Pause. The Mama shrugs. 

"So, you'll make sure they close the freezer tight?"

The Mama walks away.

Sigh.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Real Friends Transcendent

"Oh, if I could hear myself when I say
Oh, love is bigger than anything in it's way..."



It was like every teen friendship movie we've ever seen, except played out in grade school. The part where mutual friend X stops hanging out with group Y and starts hanging out more with group Z, based on whatever reasons friend X has.

Such is the circle of the modern free-society life. And that's fine, because the Mama (what I affectionately call my wife) and I have been through it; many of us have. But we also don't want our girls to sacrifice one friendship for another, especially during these preteen years when overlapping relationships can sour and lines are drawn, and all regardless of what we think as the parents and who they should be friends with (as long as it's not destructive relationship). Where the peer pressure overwhelms many of us and forces us to choose -- or unfortunately we're selected out by the very friends we thought we had and the groups we thought we belonged to -- or we self-select altogether. 

In this case, friend X is Beatrice, our oldest, who like me her father has an empathic heart and friendly disposition that makes her accessible to girls and boys of many backgrounds. Again, it's easier as a kid to have multiple friendships, learning to trust and respect others based on shared likes versus dividing each other based on gender, race or varied interests and beliefs. It's bad enough how some men end up treating women later in life (i.e., devaluing them, harassing them, bullying each other, assaulting them, etc.), as well as how women end up treating women (and/or all of the above). It becomes a complex destructive mess leaving painful scars and potentially years of therapy in its wake depending on the severity. (Read this article and this article for painful reminders of our adult realities.)

So friend X is Beatrice and let's call group Y the puppy club and group Z the kitten club (the names aren't really the important part, although it is important to note that they were clubs they formed and they're all girls except for one boy in the puppy club). Beatrice played everyday during recess and lunch with her friends in the puppy club, and then one day the kitten club was formed, but not everyone from the puppy club was invited to join the kitten club. Not for any particular articulated reason except for just because that's who they wanted.

Beatrice loved playing in both clubs, but started spending more time with the kitten club. Then the puppy club's feelings were hurt.

Sound familiar?

That's when the puppy club wrote Beatrice a note. A very heartwarming note saying they missed her and wanted her to play again in their club, but not at the expense of the other club. They didn't ask her to be exclusive, just to play with them again sometimes.

So we encouraged Beatrice to think about it and respond to the puppy club, thoughtfully. And that's what she did. She told them she missed them as well and wanted to play, but that she also wanted to play with the kitten club. 

The puppy club recommended having a movie night to rekindle their friendship. And that's just what they did. Plus, no puppies or kittens were harmed in the making of this reconciliation and the playing continues. They don't all agree all the time on what they want to do and talk about. Their friendship transcends the differences and these are important life lessons to learn. We're also so proud that Beatrice received an empathy award from school recently.

That's why it's always a good reminder to review some powerful Kidpower lessons, ones that are all about better communication with those important to us. Here are three keys ones from a list of five:

1. Think Before You Speak

Staying mindful about what you say and do can prevent a host of communication problems. If you are feeling so upset that you lash out at someone in a disrespectful way, this can cause damage to the relationship – in the same way that a rock will cause damage if it is thrown through a window. A clean apology with no explanations or justifications will often repair the damage – but it causes less stress and hurt for everyone if you can avoid the damage in the first place.

2. Respect the Other Person’s Point of View

People are different, and seeing things differently is normal. Communicating respect for another person’s point of view does not mean that you are agreeing with it.  For example, you might say, “I really respect your point of view, but this is an area where we are going to need to agree to disagree, because I believe differently than you do.” When people feel that you respect their perspectives and feelings, they are more likely to treat your feelings and perspective with respect.

3. Keep Your Heart Connection

When you are important to someone, you have a lot of power and need to use that power wisely. This means that, no matter how much someone’s behavior has frustrated or upset you, you need to separate the behavior from your caring and compassion. None of us are perfect, and all of us make mistakes of different kinds.

Yes, for now their friendship transcends the differences and hopefully will continue to do so. But as the puppy and kitten clubs turn into dogs and cats, transcending the differences gets a lot harder. Our views changes, our beliefs change, our lives change and our friends change, too. Sometimes we just can't come back from friendship setbacks, no matter the reasons. 

However, for some of us, there are those friends we hold onto for life. I can only hope that our girls hold onto some of their friends today and tomorrow as we have done. Where some of our best friends are the real friends transcendent.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Even the Road Well-Traveled

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

--Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

That's when we decided to head to the hills on Black Friday. The big mountains actually -- the Sierra Nevada. It had been over 10 years since I'd been to Sequoia National Park, up above where I grew up in Visalia, California. Back then the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I had driven up past Hospital Rock to Moro Rock and then hiked the harrowing two miles around the huge dome-shaped granite to the top.

So, what to do on Black Friday? Going to the movies the day after Thanksgiving was scrapped by our family, and the Mama didn't want us sitting around on our duffs all day, and I didn’t want to be hanging around in stores or malls (although we did make our annual post crazy-crush morning Walmart run -- no judging, please), so my idea this instead was to go to Grant Grove and the General Grant tree, named the "Nation's Christmas Tree" in the 1920s by President Calvin Coolidge. It’s also honored as a living national shrine in memory of Americans lost during wars by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I hadn't been there for decades, the last time my sister and I going with our grandparents. At that time they lived in the very small mountain community of Dunlap, just west of Kings Canyon National Park where Grant Grove is located.

We had gone to my sister's house for Thanksgiving again, but the day after she had to work on Black Friday, so it was just going to be the four of us. I mapped the way to the mountains on the computer and then my phone; there were two ways to get there, one a little faster than the other.

"We should go the faster way, Sweetie," the Mama said. "It's still going to be almost an hour and a half to get there."

I shook my head. "No, I want to go the way I know. It won't take that much longer."

The Mama shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked out her window. I knew she wanted to go the shorter way; she always wants to go the shorter way.

"Okay," she said.

"Do we have enough gas?" I asked, now not sure about the drive. "There aren't any gas stations in the parks."

"The gauge says we've got enough miles left in the tank. Let's go for it."

"Right on, Mama."

“Are we there yet?” the girls asked.

Thirty minutes later we inched along the long line of cars to enter the park. Obviously, we weren't the only ones with the idea to head to the hills.

Our first stop was at Hospital Rock, a place I had been too many times over the years. But I was itching to get to the General Grant tree. I wanted to see the Nation’s Christmas tree. I had to see it. Be in its historic and emotive presence with my family by my side. But not in the snow. Because we’re not snow people. (Thankfully it was a balmy 65 degrees.) And then take a picture of it. Share the love on Instagram and Facebook. I felt like Clark Griswold on an obsessive mission to see America’s Merry friggin’ Christmas tree, and I wanted to get there now.

“Let’s hurry up, girls. Daddy wants to go see America’s Christmas tree.”

“No, we’re going to make stops along the way if we’re going this way,” the Mama said. “Especially now that the girls can get their Junior Ranger badges.”

“But I want to see America’s Christmas tree.”

“Yes, we get it, Sweetie. Do they even decorate the tree?”

I thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. Although it’s really pretty in the snow. Which we’ll never see, because we don’t do the snow.”

“Right. So, relax.”

Sigh.

“We’ll get there,” the Mama added.

“Yep, it’ll be a fun family adventure,” I said.

And as long as we get to that friggin’ tree, I thought.

Onward and upward we went – into Giant Forest, the smells of the high sierra coming in through the open windows, then past Moro Rock (the girls and I weren’t up for the heights of the hike), the General Sherman tree, Lodgepole, and finally a late lunch at the Wusachi Lodge. The thing you forget when you don’t drive in the mountains a lot is that it takes a lot longer to go from point A to point B – and the winding road can take its toll, which is why the Mama always has to drive on winding roads because she gets carsick. The girls must have her genes on that one because they were getting a little carsick, so the Mama emptied two plastic shops for vomiting just in case during one of our stops.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we made it to lunch. By that time the girls had finished their Junior Ranger workbooks, but we had to get to the Kings Canyon Visitor Center at Grant Grove Village by 4:00 PM for them to get their badges, and it was already after 3:00.

“We don’t have much time,” I said, knowing it would be close.

“It’s all right,” the Mama said. “If we make it, we make it. If not, then the girls will be fine. Completing the workbooks was fun enough for them and everything they saw.”

“Yep, a fun family adventure.”

“Exactly. We would have never done this otherwise.”

I winked. “I know, I haven’t been this way for decades. Not since my grandparents took my sister and me. And I get to see America’s Christmas tree!”

And then we were there with miles and miles to spare – making it in time to get the girls’ Junior Ranger badges and traverse our final loop hike to the General Grant tree, right as the sun was going down behind the mountains to fall into the sea where we live.

“Worth every minute,” I said.

“Yes, it was,” the Mama said.

“Did you have fun girls?”

“Yes,” they each answered, and then continued keeping each other company in the backseat.

As we drove back down into the foggy, smoggy Central Valley at sunset, I realized yet again what I’ve known for years: that even the road well-traveled, whether in our distant past or today's now, can make all the difference in this crazy-crush world. It's a matter of perspective, of seeing things again for the first time and with fresh nuance. These magical new experiences then imprint one after the other upon our cyclical consciousness. Many become lyrical and melodic, powerful memories that transcend time and stream on-demand like our favorite songs, anytime we want them, and anytime we need them.

As we drove deeper into the Great Valley dusk, my family holiday memories played all at once.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

To Brave the Hope

The blue tag swirled down the streetlight pole like a sloppy signature, which was exactly what it was. I hadn't noticed it before and had no idea how long it had been there. Knowing me and my sometimes marginal peripheral awareness, it could've been there for weeks, even though the streetlight was directly in front of our house.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) was delivering a Kidpower workshop that morning and our daughters and me had just finished a packed morning of soccer and the grocery store.

After unloading the groceries, I filled a bucket with soap and water and a new scrubbing sponge intent on cleaning up the graffiti. Before I went outside with the bucket, I told my daughters what I was going to do.

"Girls, I'm going to clean off the poll out front, okay?"

"Why?" Beatrice asked.

"Because someone painted on it when they shouldn't have. It's called graffiti and I want to clean it up."

"Okay," Beatrice said. Bryce was too engrossed in her iPad to comment.

"That's very helpful of you, Dad," Bea added.

I smiled. "Why, thank you, Bea."

"You're welcome."

It was a glorious day outside, a warm fall day bathed in cerulean blue sky. Heavenly even, like a day from the Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep comedy Defending Your Life, where everyday was 72 degrees, there were all-you-can-eat buffets where you'd never gain weight, bowling alleys, comedy clubs and more. When in fact, this was purgatory in the movie, the weigh station to heaven and hell.

I conjured the silly 1991 rom-com because the world had become more violently absurd than ever. A bizzaro pre-apocalyptic world where the super heroes aren't so super anymore, much less heroes. A disrespectful world where others deface and tag in the name of marking property that'll never be theirs. A wag-the-dog world teetering on the edge of civil wars where fake news is real and real news is fake. A world full of splintered agendas and raging biases where our leaders compromise principles and laws and bastardized religion for partisan short-term gains. A world where the worst inside all of us is celebrated because an angry few feel they've been legitimately oppressed as others had truly been for hundreds of years. And a world where violence against women and sexual assault are compartmentalized, rationalized and diminished in the face of overwhelming bittersweet awareness.

All this swirled inside me while I scrubbed the blue tag off the pole. Except that it wasn't coming off. At all. I even scraped at it with a putty knife and nothing. I started sweating and decided to try window cleaner on it. Still nothing. We didn't have anything else stronger, so I stood helpless starting at the pole. A neighbor drove by and then stopped in front of our driveway.

She asked what was going on and I explained the graffiti and that I couldn't get it off. She said they had some stronger "goo off" stuff back at the house and that I could use it. A few minutes after she drove away, another two neighbors were walking back from the nearby farmer's market. They too had some stronger "goo off" stuff and went to retrieve it.

Once I applied the stuff with steel wool the blue tag came right off. Like magic. After that I helped our neighbor remove more graffiti from a one-way sign on our street.

When the Mama got home from her workshop, I told her about the blue tag I found and that I cleaned it off.

"Thank you, Sweetie," she said.

"I only just noticed it this morning. How long had it been there on the pole?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"For at least I week. I was going to tell you about it."

A week, I thought. It could've been months for all I knew.

Sigh.

I know there will be more graffiti tags on streetlight poles and one-way signs. And I know we'll always be able to clean them off. But it's gotten harder to take the high road beyond the graffiti when the low road is so riddled with trolls and power predators these days.

When I shared that sentiment online a few days before the blue tag cleaning, a friend of mine answered:

Stay positive Kevin, people love that about you.

I smiled as I thought about it. I am positive most of the time. I am hopeful most of the time. But I'm even more thankful for the fact that there are many of us who are willing to take the high road, to remain positive, to make a difference regardless of our differences by taking action for the better however incremental or big, to ultimately prevent further social injustice and the literal moral unmooring of America.

I'm thankful for my wife who inspires me daily to brave the hope and put it in action, and my daughters as well who fuel my hope for the future. And I'm thankful for family and friends who inspire the same, that there is light and love and so many more of us willing to embody them both.

Right on and amen. Bring on that high road, please. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Most of Us Together

Number 9 ran off the field at halftime and yelled at me.

"Dad, why didn't you take me out earlier! I'm really tired!"

She panted after every other word. Her face glowed red. Her hair was wet and matted to her forehead and the sides of her face.

"Great job, Beatrice," I said. "You are being aggressive and going after that ball!"

"But I'm tired!"

I patted her on the back. "I know, so take a break and drink some water. You're doing awesome."

"Thank you," she said. Then she was past it, eating fresh strawberries, the last halftime snack of our final game.

In the next moment, one of the team parents approached me. Her daughter was sick and had already thrown up twice on our sidelines. But that's not why she came over to talk.

"You know, you should tell the girls they can help our goalie and not just stand around and watch," she said.

I took a "zen" beat inside my head before I spoke. This wasn't an unreasonable request; she had the best intentions. In fact, the parents of all our players were really good all season, one of whom was my assistant coach, another one who also helped, and a few others who had soccer experience and made great suggestions throughout the season.

But I took a "zen" beat because it had been a long season. Sure, we weren't supposed to keep score, this is recreational soccer, and I had stopped keeping score early on when we lost every game by a significant number of goals. Game after game. Week after week. For someone who grew up highly competitive -- me -- and coming off of a winning season last year, it had been a long season this year. And yet I tried to keep my head up, because even with this last game, there was always a next time.

I put my hand on the parent's shoulder. "I understand. I do. I just want them to score for the first time in this final game. Or just pass consistently to one another. Or just dribble and drive the ball down the field. Or just kick the ball straight and farther than five yards. You know, those little things."

She smiled at my mild sarcasm and attempt at humor. "I know, but they really could help their goalie out so they don't keep getting the score run up on them."

Sigh.

"Got it. Thank you," I said.

"Coach, you just stepped in the throw up," one of the other players pointed out to me.

I looked down.

Sigh.

Maybe it was me. My job as coach for a U10 recreational team was to help them learn some soccer skills and some teamwork, regardless of having boys or girls, and in this case, it was my third year coaching our oldest daughter and an all-girl teams. But from the first practice to this very last game, it felt like some of the girls just didn't really want to play soccer. That they only wanted to goof off with each other instead. That's okay. They're kids.

Maybe it was me. There had been a lot of work travel this season for me and I missed some practices and one of our games. And then there was my hospitalization and disruptive infection that scared the bejesus out of me and the Mama (what I affectionately call my wife).

Maybe it was me, because as the season went on, it got tougher to inspire myself, much less the girls. Are they getting any of this? I thought again and again. After each game the Mama countered my fuming by encouraging me to keep encouraging them. I had the same conversations with my coaches and they encouraged me to stay positive and stay the course.

"They are playing better today, Coach," my assistant coach said.

"Yep," I said. "They are."

That's the thing -- positive improvements aren't always evident -- they are more subtle than that, like the incremental slow-growth of a coral reef. One minute there's nothing but barren shallows, and then 10,000 minutes later there's a layer of lovely colors that are alive and well.

And in the final game, there were all the lovely colors:


  • Better dribbling for some.
  • Better change-of-direction and ball control for others.
  • Better passing to teammates for others.
  • Better aggressive going after the ball for many of them.
  • Even better defense helping the goalie keep the ball away from our goal.


And while the number of shots we got at the opponents' goal were again few and far between, there were those who played hard and seemed inspired to do so, had the "fire" as my assistant coach put it, like they really wanted to play well, individually and together, encouraging each other to keep going, even for the few who didn't want to.

Yes, it had been a long season, and besides being her coach and her dad, I was especially proud of our oldest, Beatrice, as she had truly improved over this last season (and the two seasons before this one). She wanted to play, liked to play, went after the ball and got it done. She even wanted to practice kicking the ball around in the backyard, and before this last game asked to play in the winter recreational league. I never thought I'd see that happen.

After the last game we had a team party, and as we were all leaving, one of my other players walked up to me and game me a hug.

"Thank you, Coach," she said.

I hugged her back and said, "No, thank you."

One after another most of the girls thanked me. One even wrote me a nice note. Maybe in the end it wasn't me; it was most of us together. And that should make us all feel like winners.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Be Part of the Solution

One minute I was happily serving drinks, and the next minute I blacked out. And I don’t think the Mickey was meant for me.

Neither of us did. A few years before our oldest Beatrice was born, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I attended a coworker’s Halloween party. Dressed as Han Solo and Princess Leia, we volunteered to help run one of the backyard bars.

We were having a lot of fun chatting it up with dozens of different people dressed in all sorts of great costumes, most of whom we didn’t know. The Mama was a much better barkeep than me since she’d worked in restaurants over the years and did some bartending. She helped me mix the drinks and I mostly stayed with serving beer and wine.

Maybe two hours or so into the party, I felt wasted. Literally shitfaced. And I shouldn’t have been. I’d only had a few glasses of wine.

“Are you okay?” the Mama asked.

Thankfully the crowd had thinned at our bar, because the world spun way too fast for me at that point.

“I feel really drunk,” I said.

“Wow, you're slurring. You haven’t had that much to drink. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t feel good,” I said. Although I probably said, I stone fee goo.

“I have to go to the bathroom now.”

I af to go to da bamoom now.

We went to the bathroom and then went back to bartending. A while later it was time to go and that was when the world became an acrylic swirl of black and yellow light like Van Gogh’s Night Sky. I barely remember the Mama putting me in our car and driving us home. Then I vaguely remember stumbling into our house. She knew something was definitely wrong at that point.

The next morning we reviewed the night. I had a killer headache and there was no way it was just from the wine I drank. After some research online, we agreed that something had been put into my drink, probably what’s known as a rufie, the date-rape drug.

But again, we don’t think it was meant for me. Probably another woman. Whenever it happened, however it happened, and whoever it was intended for, I happened to be the unlucky victim of a drug-induced blackout. Thank God my wife was there to take care of me. Again, most of the party goers were strangers to us, so it could have been anybody.

After telling my coworker about it, she was mortified and said she’d look into it. These people were her and her husband’s friends, and sure enough, she uncovered someone they knew who had tried to drug someone at a previous party, but denied having anything to do with what happened to me. Without proof, there was nothing she could do about it, or we could do about.

What if I was a woman and the intended victim? What would’ve happened to me? Would I have been sexually assaulted? Would it have been someone I knew, or a stranger?

Today I’m an appointed volunteer on the Santa Cruz Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and part of our mission is to partner with local law enforcement and collect data on a variety of CA penal codes to better understand the nature of sexual assaults, occurring within Santa Cruz, and distribute this information to our community. Some of our findings from 2014-2016 of non-juvenile cases to be released soon include:


  • In 40% of the incidences of reported rape or attempted rape, the suspects were acquaintances of the victims.
  • 86% of the victims reporting sexual assault are Santa Cruz City locals.
  • Women between the ages of 18-29 make up 45% of the victims reporting sexual assaults.
  • Suspects were 59% locals, 32% unknown and 9% visitors to the area.
  • Alcohol was involved in 42% of the cases reported between 2014-16.


One of these days our girls will be young adults and may go to parties like this, whether locally or at college or wherever they end up living. Wherever that will be, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Mix in alcohol and powerful sedative drugs and you've got a very dangerous combination for potential victims. We can't be there all the time to protect our girls, but we can educate them to be aware and protect themselves.

The work we do at CPVAW has a broader mission of ending sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the City of Santa Cruz through prevention, programs, and public policy. October has also been domestic violence awareness month, and 1 in 3 women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime and an average of 3 women die every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. Growing up, my sister and I witnessed my mother suffer continuous verbal and physical abuse, another reason why I speak up about it. To give voice to those who need help.

Recently on Facebook a friend asked why men don't speak up about the #metoo movement (the sharing on social media by other women who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted), and also why so many men stand by and let harassment and sexual assault happen (and anything related to violence against women).

My response was simple:

I have stood by. I have called out. I have harassed. I have been harassed. I have never sexually assaulted anyone. I have been sexually assaulted

My wife and I have two young daughters who we are empowering to be strong and be part of the solution. As parents, we all have an ultimate responsibility to instill in both girls and boys their own sense of personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, to be safe with their bodies and their minds, to not react inappropriately and violently, and to encourage all of the above with others. We need to be clear with our children that violence against women and girls, men or boys, including sexual assault, harassment, bullying or anything related is never okay.

So let's be part of the solution, today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Just Another Saturday

I just needed to pee when the Mama called to me from downstairs.

"Kevin, where are you? I need to talk to you about something important right now."

Her voice sounded off, odd, like she was uncomfortable about something. There was also an accusatory tone, as if I should be reading her mind to understand whatever the heck was going on as she bounded up the stairs. What did I do? I thought. Wait, nothing. All I knew is that we were getting ready to go to Bryce's soccer game.

"Kevin, where are you?"

"Going to the bathroom!" I called back at her.

That's when I heard a helicopter overhead. Then a plane fly by. Then the helicopter again. Then another plane. The Mama, what I lovingly call my wife, came into our bathroom where I was.

"There's a fire in Moore Creek down the street. We have to go now."

The "go now" part stung, as if the Mama had wagged her finger in front of me and then poked me hard in the chest. Her very being was all resolve and purpose betrayed only by the fear in her eyes.

"Sweetie, we have to pack some things and go," she said. "Our neighbor said they'll be closing the road soon."

We heard multiple firetrucks and police cars scream by us down the highway. The helicopter and planes flew overhead again. Moore Creek was right at the end of our street, where other friends of ours lived, whose children went to school with our girls. The property behind us lined with eucalyptus trees had ground cover as dry as kindling and most likely ready to go up in flames if the fire reached it. One of the eucalyptus had fallen into a neighbor's house over the last rainy winter, and when we saw the two feet of tree debris all over the ground soaking wet, we knew at some point it would dry out and be quite combustible.

"I have to pee first!" was all I could say to the Mama. Because I did, before I did anything else. Then I could get moving.

She went into our closet and came out with our home safe, full of important family paperwork among other things. It's a heavy little sucker, and yet, it was if she were holding a newborn close to her chest.

"Okay, that's fine," she said. "Then help me get some things together. We have to go before the road closes."

"Wait, have you heard anything on the news? Do we have to evacuate? What do we know? Let's not overreact if we don't know exactly what's happening."

"I only know that we have to go," she said.

That was enough for me.

Ten minutes earlier it was just another Saturday. Soccer games and errands and family time in between. Now there was a fire down the street, how serious we didn't really know yet. We do get local Nixle alerts, but there had been none yet notifying us of anything including whether or not we should evacuate. And considering all the wildfires north of us in Santa Rosa, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes, we weren't going to take any chances.

Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? We have disaster plans, at least frameworks to work within in order to get out, to meet up elsewhere if separated. Extra food and water in the garage if trapped at home. And so on. I carried the safe downstairs.

"Sweetie, get the suitcase for me," the Mama called down.

"I will. I'm going to pack the computers and devices for us."

"Yes, please do."

The girls had already been calmly tasked to pack a few things they wanted to bring. They were stuffed animals and a few toys, of course.

"Is our house going to burn down?" Beatrice asked.

"No, honey, but we need to be safe and go somewhere else for a while just until the firefighters put the fire out."

While the Mama kept packing I started to load our car. The Cal Fire helicopter and planes kept circling and dropping water on the mountainside and I could see the smoke for the first time, although I couldn't smell it. More first responders raced down the highway with sirens blaring. Many people were outside including our neighbors, some of whom walked down the street to investigate further. A Nixle alert did appear on my phone, but only to say the highway was now closed due to a fire and to stay tuned for more updates. Nothing about evacuation.

After getting everything into the car except the suitcase, our neighbor called us and said she and her son were at the end of the street and the firefighters had just put the fire out. But another Nixle alert told me that the highway and part of our road would be closed for awhile. At least we were safe for now and the firefighters had quickly contained the blaze.

"What about the guinea pigs?" the girls had asked.

Prior to knowing the fire was more or less out, the question of what to do with the guinea pigs came up. Their cage would fit in the car, that wasn't a problem, but if we ended up stranded somewhere, there was no way we could keep them in the car. It would be too hot. And the eventual smell of course. Maybe we could drop them off at a friend's house. Or maybe we just couldn't take them with us. Thankfully we didn't have to end up making that call.

Because what do you take when you don't know how much time you have, when you may not have any time at all? Your family, maybe your pets if realistic, and a few critical items like important paperwork, medicines if any, computers and/or devices, some clothes and toiletries. Everything else has to stay -- and you have to go. Now. While we packed our stuff I remembered looking at all our family pictures hanging on the wall and thinking I have all of these digitally, so we can print them again. 

We did end up going on with our day as planned, but it felt off, odd, like the tone of the Mama's voice when she first called to me upstairs only 30 minutes earlier. Should we have stayed and waited to ensure things didn't flare up again and that we'd really have to evacuate? Once we were away from our house without the stuff we packed, there would be no way to get back if things went south, and everything could've been lost.

But it wasn't. It was just another Saturday. God bless those who have lost.

The next morning the Mama said to me, "You know what?"

"What?"

"We forgot the key to the safe when we packed everything up."

"Again with the keys," I said.

The Mama laughed. "But it's not like we couldn't have broken into it. It's not that great of a safe."

"That's comforting," I said.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Of All The Things

“Always take a big bite
It's such a gorgeous sight
To see you in the middle of the night
You can never get enough
Enough of this stuff
It's Friday
I'm in love…”

— The Cure, Friday I’m in Love


The song rocked sweetly in my head as it played overhead while we walked back to our hotel after some shopping. It’s Friday, I’m in love. A week of successful work travel behind me, and still on the mend, and now my wife was with me in Las Vegas for the weekend to celebrate our 20-year anniversary of the day we met on the beach (14 years of marriage and the same date). The song was one of many special ones to us we had put on our wedding soundtrack to celebrate Friday date nights.

We walked hand in hand, and then my wife, who I affectionately call the Mama, said, “When we get back to the room we’ll call the girls.”

"Yes, absolutely."

One of our dear friends was watching our girls for the weekend at our house, and no sooner than the Mama had finished saying “the girls,” we were both texted.

I pulled my phone out to read the text. It was from that dear friend watching our girls. It was right after school, so she had picked them up and was bringing them back to our house.

Hi, out your house. Didn’t find a house key in either backpack.

“Sweetie, did you give Laura our key?”

No response. She was reading the text, too.

“Sweetie?”

“No, no I didn’t. I totally forgot.”

“Are you serious?”

The usual edge I get when things go south slashed away at the air between us.

“I can’t remember everything, Kevin. There was so much to do before I left. I just forget to give her the keys.”

I took a beat and a breath, still mentally slashing away in the air.

“There’s a spare in the garage,” the Mama went on.

“No, there’s not," I said.

“Yes, the one by the furnace.”

I shook my head. “That was the one to get into the office and guest room through the garage, but not for the house."

The Mama asked Laura to look for the key, but it wasn’t there.

She then looked at me and asked, “Wasn’t there a key in the office, too?”

“No, we took both keys out years out. There’s nothing out there anymore.”

“Then we’ll have to call a locksmith," she said without missing a beat.

More slashing at the air. “Are you kidding me? That could be hundreds of dollars. No way!”

“Then how are they going to get in?”

“Can they spend the night at Laura’s and we’ll FedEx our key now? Every casino with a conference center has a FedEx office.”

The Mama thought about it.

“Maybe.”

She kept talking with our friend Laura on the phone and I just kept on stewing. I knew my wife had a lot going on with work and the girls, taking care of me before I traveled, and the fact that I’d already been gone for nearly a week.

But of all the things, the house key? Ugh. I mean, you can forget toothpaste and underwear, but the house key for your babysitter? It wasn’t exactly like the movie Home Alone, but I still failed to reign in my discontent.

“I get forgetting other things to do before you left, but the house key? How could you forget to give the house key to Laura?”

That did it. Too much push.

“Sweetie, stop it. It’s done. I forgot, okay? Nothing we can do about that now!"

We both sent quiet. Then she spoke up again.

"What about our neighbor? Could he get in and open the door for her and the girls?”

I always love how she moves on immediately identifying solutions. I still have to extinguish the stewing before I move.

“Is the upstairs bedroom window still open?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s open.”

“Then most likely, yes, he can get in.”

Our neighbor had been up on his own two-story roof more than once, so I knew he could he could get to our window that way as well. We've never had to do it, and we've never tried, because the Mama has always said the second story is off limits anyway due to, you know, gravity. I called our neighbor and he confirmed he could do it, just not until later in the day. After that, we both felt better knowing that at least they’d get into the house eventually.

“If they can’t get in, we’re going to have to call a locksmith then," the Mama said as we continued to walk back to our hotel.

Ugh.

"Yes, I know," I said. "Love you."

"Love you."

And then I added. "We're going to make Laura a friggin' key, Sweetie."

"Yes, I know."

The Mama stopped and checked her phone. "Wait a minute, they're in."

I checked my phone at the same time reading the same new text.

Mike is climbing through window now. Do we need to worry about an alarm?

Mike is Laura's husband and obviously was now climbing in our upstairs bedroom window.

We are in the house now.

Both the Mama and I smiled. I texted Laura back.

Wow. We’re going to make you a key.

We thanked Laura and Mike profusely. After we got back to our hotel room and talked with the girls on FaceTime, our anniversary weekend was back on track. Of all the things I love about the Mama, her ability to pivot and adapt to nearly every situation, big or small, positive or negative, and then think rationally about solutions, is probably the most inspiring thing of all (I remember the fire on Maui and many other examples). That and the way she cares for our girls and for me of late with my recent health issues again solidified for me why she's the woman of my dreams and why we're celebrating 20 years.

Twenty years of living fully and mostly well, loving comfortably within our lives. Amen to our #BhivePower.


"For 20 years now you’ve been my inspirational muse,
My stunning ache, and the us of which we choose.
We want to believe our two halves will always grow
Intact as two wholes that the end of days will show,
And until then we will live fully and mostly well,
Loving comfortably within our lives, our endless tell."

—Excerpt from a poem I wrote for the Mama on our anniversary












Sunday, October 8, 2017

To Have All the Time I Need

“When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain you would not understand
This is not how I am…”

— Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb


It was hard enough just to get through the workday, being depressed on my birthday. All I could do was selfishly think about me, of what was known and not known, and what I may miss if things got worse. Even with family and friends telling me happy birthday over and over, and asking me how I felt over and over, I didn't feel any better.

I just didn't hear a lot of it. Couldn't hear a lot of it. Didn't want to hear a lot of it. Not even the familiar daily banter from our children sharing what had happened at school that day. Then my wife, the Mama as I affectionately call her, started asking me questions about how I was feeling and what I should do next with the doctors, and what her and my sister talked about, and don't forget this, and don't forget that --

"Stop treating me like a child!"

That's the way it is with me. The emotional paralysis followed by the simmer to slow boil to trashing the familial stove with my angry froth. The Mama kept calm and waited for my next move.

"You make it sound like I don't know what I'm doing and that I underserve myself with the doctors, that I don't want to be well," I said.

"Sweetie, I just care about you and want to do everything we can to make sure you get better and it doesn't happen again. I'm not trying to treat you like a child."

"Well, that's what it sounds like when I talk to both you and my sister. I just want to be well, Amy. I just want to be well and it sucks that this happened and keeps happening. I take care of myself."

"I know, Sweetie. I'm sorry. I love you. I want you to be well, too."

"I just want to be well. And I'm worried when I go back in tomorrow, they're going to want me to stay in the hospital again.

"I know, I know. I love you."

All this within earshot of our two girls, already worried enough for about as much as a seven and nine-year-old can and will worry about circumstances such as these.

"Are you and Dad fighting?" Beatrice asked the Mama.

"No, honey. Just talking about Daddy getting better, that's all."

"Dad, it's your birthday," said Beatrice.

"Happy Birthday!" chimed in Bryce.

Yes, yes it is. It's my friggin' birthday and I'm alive, Sweetie. Amen.

Less than two weeks prior to this, I had a fever and painful lumps where there shouldn't have been any -- let's just say, where the sun don't shine. Over three days they seemed appear, although who knows how long they'd been brewing (there were other possibly connected precipitating factors since June). All I knew is that I had to go see my doctor, because within a week after that, I'd be traveling extensively again for work. Or not. That remained to be seen at that point.

But after visiting my primary care physician, she immediately urged me to go to urgent care. And then from urgent care, they recommended I go to the emergency room immediately. Because of being with Kaiser, which is still expanding in Santa Cruz, that meant we had to go to the hospital in San Jose. The Mama asked one of our dear friends to watch the girls overnight, not knowing what would happen next.

The Mama drove me to the hospital, but on the way first we stopped by to see the girls where our friend had taken them to dinner. That was painfully awkward, because our oldest knew something was up more than us telling her that "Daddy just needed to get some tests." Her stress was obvious, although my youngest seemed more oblivious, something I was thankful for. We gave them big hugs and were on our way.

Once at the hospital and the tests run and examinations complete, the consensus was that it was an infected abscess that had to be surgically treated, although they had no idea about the other areas at that point. Spending the night in hospital was inevitable at this point and they did try to reassure me that this happens to people of all ages. During recovery I missed my girls and worked, of course, and by midday the next day, I was discharged.

The whole time before and after the surgery, the only thing the Mama and I could think about was when my sister had gotten so sick the year before. Within three days she'd gone septic and had to be sedated for nearly two weeks, with a dismal prognosis overall. The fear of multiple infections, especially getting something more virulent while in the hospital, scared us to no end. Cancer never came up, and besides a high white blood cell count, was never considered (at least as of now).

All I could think about was my family first -- what would we have to do if things went south on us. That's a dark rabbit hole no one wants to go down.

And then there was everything else I'd been working on to prep for my nonprofit Talent Board's big one day symposium and awards gala in Nashville, less than a week away at that point. So much blood, sweat and tears that I wanted to see come to fruition, to celebrate with my team, our volunteers, sponsors and research participants.

However, the surgeons felt like I'd be okay if I kept the areas clean and if my wife helped with the dressing and the packing before I left, and then come back in one week to check in (after my event in Nashville). Now, there's no reason to go into detail here, but I have one amazing and loving wife for her to care for me the way she has. God bless that beautiful woman. We're now only one week from our 20-year anniversary from that one day on the beach.

Which brings me back to my birthday and just wanting to be well. To have decades more to spend with my wife and my children. Unfortunately there's another hot spot on my body being monitored and checked for other infections, but I do feel better overall. Antibiotics consumed and no fever since surgery and the other areas have nearly healed all the way.

Yes, it was hard enough just to get through the workday, being depressed on my birthday. But I'm alive and mostly well and live fully and comfortably within that life. Every single day. A life that's inextricably linked to my dear daughters and my amazing wife, and so many other family and friends who care enough to tell me happy birthday over and over, and that hope I feel better soon.

Because I just want to be well, to be there for them. To have all the time I need, for them and for me. I will not imagine otherwise. This is not how I am.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

More Than the F-Bombs

I knew the path I headed down had escalated beyond the reality of it. Knew it before I even opened my big mouth. Knew it when my understanding of what was really happening still stayed light years from where it could and would be some day. Knew that my volcanic reaction was more about me than them.

"I just don't want them watching those anymore!"

What had happened was this: a series of YouTube videos all about selling toys to kids unapologetically and incessantly called CookieSwirlC had invaded the lives of our children. These videos make our skin crawl -- the high-pitched bubbly pitching of kid stuff in the form of cute little videos with no educational or "nutritional" value whatsoever. Both the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) and I soon laid down the law of only 1-2 of them per day.

Then that led to the discovery of other innocuous YouTube videos on our TV thanks to our overpriced and comprehensive cable provider. For example, a series of silly guinea pig videos made by people with way too much time on their hands. Way too much. And those led to one in particular where the adult theme cranked the volume to 10 with f-bomb after f-bomb after f-bomb.

I didn't hear it myself, but the Mama told me it happened, and that thankfully the girls didn't really pay attention to the words and didn't repeat them either (yet). And that the Mama would turn that channel off pronto.

But I was already on the path of black and white -- my way or the highway.

"I just don't want them watching those anymore!"

When my emotions finally caught up with my rational thought, I articulated that I was scared to death of what was coming. That the girls were getting older and at some point their childhood would become an archeological dig in boxes and bags of old artwork and schoolwork, and in computer files of photos and videos.

I was scared to death of them seeing what we all eventually see: the sometimes shitty world that can hurt us and make us feel less than human. The Mama got, just wishing I would've said that in the first place.

Because more than the f-bombs, this was all about the great big world wide interwebs being accessible to our children and introducing them to the initially silly but eventually creepy subhuman. Yes, we set boundaries for them. Yes, we set limitations on how many and when, the same parameters with watching TV, playing kid games on their devices, etc. Yes, we also teach our girls to make their own wise choices, something that for all of us is a lifelong commitment. Which of course isn't easy considering the underdeveloped frontal lobes of our seven- and nine-year-old girls, still much more advanced than their boy counterparts.

We didn't have this kind of media access growing up, and yet that doesn't even matter, because today our kids do. So we keep doing what we're supposed to do as parents -- monitoring and filtering and limiting and explaining and empowering and turning off when we need to. YouTube for kids was a helpful segue. And yes, we're still the unapologetic parents who integrate it all into some semblance of family learning time.

However, can someone tell us how we block the CookieSwirlC videos please? No, seriously. Block them today. Please.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Because There's Always a Next Time

“Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.”

John Madden, Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (1969-78)



After the first game, one of the parents said, "Headline reads: The Tigers get pounced!"

I laughed. I knew he was kidding. Kind of. But it still stung because I was the head coach. The leader of a recreational all girls soccer team. The one who looks forward to teaching soccer fundamentals and teamwork and having fun, fun, fun no matter what level the girls are at. That's why everyone always gets a chance to play every game and rotate positions throughout the season.

And it's always a big plus to have really involved parents that feel the same way, even after the other team runs up the score on you.

"No, the headline reads: The Tigers play hard and have fun!" I replied.

He laughed. Kind of. Maybe a little uncomfortably. After he walked away I realized that not one girl on our team asked me what the final score was. I wasn't sure what that meant, if anything, but the year before half the team asked me each and every game.

But we won many games the year before. Most of them actually. We're really not supposed to keep score, nor keep a tally of wins and losses, but I still do. I'm humble about it, though. But I just can't help it either way -- I grew up playing more competitively even at an early age. The same age as the girls on our U10 soccer team, eight and nine year olds. There were more girls who'd played multiple years prior to last season, with a few going on to play competitively.

This year our team is full of raw talent, with fewer of them having played prior to this year. And that's okay. That's what I wanted. Why I wanted to coach starting three years ago. Why I now have two other amazing coaches this year to help me. I had only played soccer in junior high school decades earlier, but I knew that no matter what sport our girls wanted to play, if they wanted to play, and if it was something I could actually coach. It was stretch for me considering my sport was American football, not the rest of the world's fĂștbol.

I'm all about the stretch assignment, however. All about pushing myself to learn something new while helping to instill new skills in others including personal leadership and teamwork. It my sound a little campy to the cynics out there, but it's true. And because our oldest Beatrice wanted to give soccer a go a few years ago -- and still wants to play three years later -- that's a win in my book.

Our youngest Bryce is now playing for the first year. I'm not coaching her team, because I can't do both, and I can't always watch her if my games are going on at the same time, but I'm so excited to watch her own raw talent get refined as well.

Like our oldest, who doesn't have the same affinity to sports like soccer as our youngest does, but who also after three years of a big heart and who works hard. And it's certainly paid off -- watching her dribble and drive and defend and shoot like it's nobody's business makes us really proud. Makes me really proud being her coach and her father.

Because that's what it's all about for me -- for every single girl on the team. Which is why it was hard to hear in the last game the following:

"Coach, can you tell the team not to give me a hard time? It was just a mistake I made. Everybody makes them."

This coming from another play who had accidentally kicked the ball into our own goal, thinking she was kicking it to our goalie.

So during halftime, I reminded the team to cheer each other on when we do something good and to support each other when we don't. That we'll get it the next time. Because we'll always make mistakes and because there's always a next time.

Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.


That's right. There's always a next time, which if one of the hardest lessons we have to continuously learn, both as kids and adults. We may lose every single game, but in the end the headline will always read:

"Tigers are winners!"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Normal Not-End-of-Days Talk

“Here we come out of the cradle

Endlessly rocking

Endlessly rocking…”

—Rush, Out of the Cradle

It happened and she's never looked back. The seismic shift was clear, concise and immediate; I'm not sure exactly when, but sometime before the start of school this year for sure. And now she says it over and over to seemingly affirm her newfound maturity, the painfully necessary grounding of the years to come. Sure, we knew it would happen someday, a transition that most parents experience in late childhood into tween-land.

I stewed on that during the final dog days of August into early September when temperatures spiked to 107 degrees in Santa Cruz that included a humidity we don't usually get. Granted, we didn't have the Los Angeles fires burning out of control, or the Cascades fires. Nor did we have the horrific realities of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, and now Hurricane Irma hitting Florida, forcing millions to evacuate after wiping out the Caribbean. And we didn't have the devastating earthquake in Mexico either.

Since Labor Day our weather has returned somewhat to normal as have our lives with school starting and soccer games for both girls this year. Even with having friends in some of the affected areas mentioned above, and after making Red Cross donations and sending protective thoughts and prayers their way -- when you're not in it, you feel far removed from it. And your only reality is in the moment of driving your oldest daughter to her team's first soccer game you're coaching again.

"Dad," she said from the back seat. "What happened with the hurricane?"

There it was again: Dad. Not Daddy anymore. I couldn't remember the last time she called me Daddy, and yet it had to have only been a few weeks earlier when the seismic shift occurred.

"Dad?"

"What Sweetie?"

"What happened with the hurricane?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is it hitting land yet?"

Prior to leaving for the game, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) was watching Good Morning America on her iPad in the kitchen while fixing the girls breakfast, and the Hurricane Irma story was front and center.

"It hasn't made it to Florida yet, but it did wipe out a lot of Caribbean islands. It's one of the most powerful hurricanes ever."

Bea thought about this for a moment. And then, "Will people die?"

It's not that we don't talk with the girls about current events and the realities of life, but these kinds of questions were new for our eldest.

"There will be people who get hurt and some may die, yes."

"How big is it?"

"What? The hurricane?"

"Yes."

"Really big. It's going to drop a ton of water and the winds are really --"

"I know what a hurricane is," she interrupted.

"Okay, do you know how fast the winds are going?"

"No."

I tried to think of how to explain the speed. "Think about this: you know when we're driving on the highway we're going pretty fast -- around 65 miles per hour. Now, imagine going two to three times that fast. That wind will destroy a lot of stuff in its path. It would totally sweep you and me away if we were on the beach when it hit."

"Wow," she said. I wasn't sure she got it, though.

We kept talking about hurricanes and then tornados for a few minutes and I explained that we don't get those kinds of storms where we live, but we do get earthquakes. I told Bea about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, what I experienced living in San Jose then, and what had happened to downtown Santa Cruz, about two miles from where we live now.

"So they rebuilt downtown?" she asked.

"Yes, they had to, because most of the buildings fell apart. All of Pacific Avenue."

"Will it happen again?"

I could hear the distress in her voice. She's a "feeler" like me, so I wasn't surprised that she got a little rattled. I felt bad.

"It could, but we don't know exactly when or even if it will happen again anytime soon," I said, neglecting to talk about the Mexico earthquake that had happened a few days earlier.

"What would happen to our house? Would it fall down? Where would we go?"

Her distress escalated a bit and thankfully we were just about to the the park where we played our soccer games. It probably didn't help that I had told her of all the people that had to leave their homes in Florida due to the hurricane.

The total trip to our soccer game was only a 10-minute drive, but it felt much longer, years longer, mostly because of this new level of conversation I had with my daughter.

"Dad, I'm a little nervous to play today."

"You'll do fine. Let's go have some fun."

Ah, back to the normal not-end-of-days talk. And while far from apocalyptic, going from Daddy to Dad has rocked my world a little. At least I've got a couple more years of Daddy with Bryce.

The week before the Mama and I watched our children play in the living room, still kids for now, while 1970's soft rock played in the background, and I remembered the fun times for me growing up and playing in the living room. The simpler times. The nothing else in the world matters times. And now we're both living it again watching them grow up. Mercy me, it was just seven years ago when Bea rocked a newborn Bryce laying in a car seat on our living room floor.

Endlessly rocking indeed.